We turn to some of the best teams as a model for creating greatness. It makes sense, to emulate success by following the lead of those who pave the way. These teams attract the top talent, winners, physically blessed, highly trained, talented, driven, athletes and puts them out on a pristine, freshly pelleted turf, newly refinished wood, or lushly maintained grass surface and they get to work taking those smaller, newer and less experienced teams to task with relative ease. It isn’t until those top teams battle each other and feel the intense pressure of meeting their match in competition that the hints of an underlying disease in culture may even show itself. Or maybe a key injury of a star player, some unforeseen event or circumstance where culture, character, and unity take to the frontline.
If you want to learn about culture, I wouldn’t tell you to go find the championship team. They may have an incredible culture, but they may just have talent, size, funding, and a sea of recruits. It’s not the rule, but often teams with incredible amounts of talent spend less time on culture because the measuring stick is wins and talent can float a team far enough that culture is a side focus and addressed only when issues come to the surface.
If you really want to learn how to create a culture that holds a team together, unites them in a purpose, keeps them centered under intense pressure, builds resiliency, stifles turnover, grows exponentially and thrives, then you need to look to the losers – though look fast, they may not be losing for long.
Ask a coach who takes the new players, the ones that got cut from the other programs and landed in their lap – thankfully so there would be enough numbers to keep the program growing. Ask the coaches of the athletes who picked up the sport after high school and are trying to learn rules under the fastest and most uncomfortable of circumstances where there is little mercy for them come game day. Those coaches know culture. They know that if they aren’t enjoying the process, learning and growing, connecting, and having fun then they wont have a program at all. Ask the coach who has to game after game bring in outmatched, underfunded, injured, brand new players who often are lucky to have the numbers for the relief of a sub on the sideline, go into the locker room and then get them excited to play another game. They have to make losing fun, because winning is going to take time. Without holding onto players long enough to train them, they would never get past starting over every year so culture is now the very core of the program’s survival.
We ask the coaches of the greatest teams for culture advice, but if you want to know the truth, if you want to know what it takes to bond a team when culture is the ONLY thing you have to keep it going, then ask someone who’s been through the fire of blowouts, setbacks, poor funding, lack of facilities and still comes out to the field with the passion and desire of the greatest team. Ask the coach of the team that after a blowout first half still gets his team to rally, to find purpose, and to put everything they have on the field, dig deep under unbeatable odds and refuse to quit. Those coaches know culture. Those coaches know that the only path to making the program one that wins one day on the scoreboard is to build and develop the athletes’ hearts, minds and needs who are in front of them right now.
Ask the coach who has put away their ego and held onto a position that offers no awards or titles but rather the satisfaction of creating an incredible bond between young men and women that will serve them long beyond their playing days. Ask the coach who faces a certain defeat with a redefined sense of winning and the ability to see growth and progress as the prize and reward. Look to the coach who in the face of a scoreboard blow up will look away from it and instead into his or her player’s eyes and tell them where they are making him/her proud and be able to find the corrections that will help that player grow.
Many of the greatest coaches aren’t carrying around championship rings and trophies in their early years with a team, but their players are a living proof that the culture of a team alone, even without the records and the wins and recognition, can change lives and build priceless relationships and memories.